Live Music + Gig Reviews

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention 2007: Day 3 @ Cropredy, Oxfordshire

11 August 2007

I’ve seen Richard Digance absolutely mauled critically for his radio and TV work. Granted, he is not exactly cutting edge, and a place in dictionary corner on Countdown does not scream credibility. But for years now he has filled the 12pm slot on Cropredy Saturday with considerable aplomb.

The East Ham-born musician/comedian is an uncomplicated, funny guy, and despite some ill-advised politicking at times, his relatively short set remains one of the highlights of every year. Initiating a 20,000 strong morris dance to Two Little Boys is not to be sniffed at.

After the inoffensive, slightly gutless Give Way, a team of four sisters, eventually we get to Iain Matthews. Matthews in the 60s was front man for Matthew’s Southern Comfort, an ensemble who recorded, along with Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills and Nash, one of the three essential versions of Woodstock. He played it at Cropredy – less ethereal, more rootsy than his original, but accomplished and well received all the same.

His other material was in the main a minor revelation – absorbing rhythms and melodies and insightful lyrics that hinted at the doomed world without bluntly confronting it with ranting and raving, as is the fashion. That said, unlike the murmur post-Jools Holland, eavesdropping yielded a consensus that Iain Matthews was rubbish. Maybe my taste antenna is on back to front.

Another articulate, informed folk act are, of course, Show Of Hands. Cropredy regulars, amid the award-winning songs and emphasis on telling obscure tales of Devonian villagers, Phil Beer and Steve Knightley took time out to inform the world just exactly what they think of things. This time, asylum seekers (good things: let them in) and the Tewkesbury flooding (a bad thing: let’s help them) sat alongside established Show Of Hands themes such as the evils of reality TV and various Republican politicians (while on the subject, best T-shirt slogan worn by an audience member: ‘Arrest Cheney First’).

Folk has from day one been inherently political, of course, with a strong Marxist bent to it, from Woody Guthrie to to Martin Carthy to Show Of Hands, but it is never clear how well politics goes down at Cropredy. A dissing of Bush or Blair always gets loud cheers, but Show Of Hands’ advocacy of welcoming asylum seekers is bound to be more polarising: I saw two black people the entire three days, and the average age is probably in the forties or fifties.

There are two fields devoted entirely to caravans, for God’s sake. It is not a particularly politically-minded festival, and Show Of Hands’ socialist exhorting (and Iain Matthews’ anti-war songs) seems to sit strangely when performed to those on the hill asleep in their deck chairs – both are correct to do what they do, however.

Anyway, I digress. Fairport (current line-up) performed their regular slot on Saturday night, and bloody ace it was too. New album Sense of Occasion, while not being their finest moment, does contain some intriguing songs, thanks to the talents of Mr Chris Leslie. Showcasing them tonight, the album came across far better than on record, while the annual encore of Richard Thompson’s Meet On The Ledge never gets old. And neither will Cropredy Festival.

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